Rushing home from a friend's barbeque on Saturday evening, desperate to miss as little of Kilkenny Waterford II as possible, I was forced to make do with RTE's radio coverage of the first few minutes. I was pulling up outside the house as the fourth goal of the game went in. Tomas Mulcahy was on co-commentary duty, and was quasi-orgasmic in his delight at the game unfolding in front of him. The rest of the game didn't disappoint either.
"Hurling as it's meant to be played" was one of the phrases uttered many times this weekend, and last. Michael Duignan said it at the full time whistle yesterday. 15 men against 15 men. May the best team win.
Thank god for that hurling match, I hope Waterford win an all Ireland soon, bursting with admiration for all those lads, #honestwarriors
— Daithi regan (@daithi_regan) August 13, 2016
At times, there can be little more annoying than "traditional hurling" evangelists. Reducing the game to a simple man vs man battle is infuriatingly simplistic, but it's hard not to see the point.
The hurling championship was simply awful up until last weekend. One sided games played a part, but so did defensive systems. Waterford and Clare were the main culprits but they weren't the only ones. The game was reduced to long range scores, coming from scrap ball coming out of midfield rucks. It wasn't aesthetically pleasing.
What a game in Thurles - huge credit to both teams for their honesty and pride in their county jerseys !!
— Tomas Mulcahy (@tomas_mulcahy) August 13, 2016
Calls for rule changes followed, as did borderline abuse for the likes of Davy Fitzgerald and Derek McGrath - accused of "ruining the game". It was reactionary and ridiculous. But it was hard to watch.
Luckily though, Waterford realised they couldn't beat Kilkenny playing like this and decided to trust in their talent. And look at the games we got as a result.
There was one point in the first game when a Waterford player hit a ball into the what used to be known as the full-forward line in yesteryear. I immediately thought of it as a wasted ball, until Kevin Moran appeared in the corner in a fair fight for possession. It was a like a throwback.
— Brian Hogan (@hogie81) August 14, 2016
Hurling when it is played like that by two evenly matched teams is simply a joy.
The point is, these things work themselves out. Kilkenny and Tipperary don't play negative sweeper systems. They also tend to beat teams that do.
Last week, Waterford knew they couldn't beat Kilkenny playing defensively. They could only attack them, and hope for the best. Derek McGrath trusted in his outstandingly talented, young team, and it almost paid off. Waterford were brilliant in both games, and it was just experience that cost them in the end.
The bulk of this team will most likely go on to win the Under 21 All-Ireland this year. Austin Gleeson is the most naturally talented player I've ever seen. He's also very raw. That will change. The rest will get better too. Waterford will win an All-Ireland with this team. They could win more than that
So after three of the best games we're likely to see, will be back to sweepers again next season? I'm all for trying things. Games should evolve. The idea that "tactics" are a bad word in the world of hurling is offensive to me. Hurling is a wonderful, skillful, instinctive sport, but suggesting tactics are a bad idea makes it sound primitive, and it's not that. There are serious thinkers out there developing the game all the time. There's nothing wrong with that.
The fact is though, the way Kilkenny play the game has been the most successful. A system designed to beat them hasn't been developed yet. But you can rock them tow to toe. Even when Clare won the All-Ireland in 2013, they went man for man in both finals. It's not that managers shouldn't be allowed to try new things, it's that they're not working. Hurling has never been as skillful and we've never had better players. Let them play. You won't win anything the other way. Except maybe a League.